The genius of Mark as a writer is demonstrated in the way that he portrays the generosity of the woman who anoints Jesus with pure Nard alongside the betrayal by Judas Iscariot. Why he committed this act of treachery against One he had given up so much to follow for three years has caused much speculation and Mark describes his action with so few words it is difficult to comprehend his motives. However, by reading the four accounts by the Gospel writers, it is possible to distinguish certain motivations:
1. There was covetousness. Matthew tells us that Judas went to the authorities and asked them what price they were willing to pay, he bargained with the Jewish authorities over the life of Jesus! John tells us that Judas was the treasurer of the group and used his position to take money from the common purse.
2. There was jealousy. It is clear to anyone who studies the Gospels that there were tensions within the group of disciples. Some Bible commentators reckon that Judas was consumed with envy over John.
3. There was ambition. We have seen in our studies of Mark's Gospel that the Twelve still thought of the Kingdom in earthly terms and dreamed of high positions in it. It is quite possible that he was the first to recognise that it wasn't going to be like that. He may have been motivated by cynical desperation after his dreams had turned to nothing.
4. Many wise scholars have reckoned that Judas didn't want Jesus to die. It is very probable that Judas was a fanatical nationalist and fearing that Jesus was drifting towards humiliating death as a common criminal, he chose to force Jesus's hand by betraying Him. This theory is given extra weight by Judas' reaction to the arrest and death of Jesus: he went away and hanged himself.
5. Luke and John both describe the moment when Judas left the table of the Last Supper to go into the night to set up Jesus' betrayal as the devil entering him. In the last analysis this is what happened: Judas wanted Jesus to be what he wanted Him to be which was not what Jesus was! Judas had chosen to attach himself to Jesus, not so much to become a follower as to work out his own plans and ambitions through Him. The heart of sin is clearly we choosing to do what we want and not what God would like. This is what eventually filled the spirit of Judas.
I have always been interested in those who express sympathy for Judas and many in my Christian life have done that, when in house groups and in preaching he has been studied.
I think it is vital that we recognise that Judas betrayed Jesus in cold blood. He set up the moment of betrayal, he chose to do it with a kiss. We may say that Judas was doing the will of God through his actions, but he freely chose to betray the One who had opened His heart to him and shown him so much of the Kingdom of God in action.